New wave of industry from the sea

Seaweed from all around the coast has been used by farmers for centuries to fertilise land, but now the crop is seen as a valuable national resource and a potential new industry, writes Ray Ryan.
New wave of industry from the sea

The potential of Ireland’s emerging farmed seaweed sector will be explored at a major conference in Limerick in November.

Seaweed from around the Irish coast has been used by farmers for generations to fertilise the land.

Visitors to some seaside resorts have also availed of the therapeutic qualities of the plants to sooth their stiff and painful bones.

Others have even taken strands of seaweed home to hang in their barns to predict the weather by observing the changes that occur.

But the crop is now also seen as a valuable resource which is being used as an ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, organic food and animal health supplements.

National and international experts from the science and food sectors will explore the potential for the Irish and global seafood market at the Limerick conference with the theme of “Farmed Irish Seaweed: An Ocean Wonder Food?”

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) is organising the event which will take place at The Radisson Blu Hotel on November 18 with a post-conference interactive forum the following day.

This event should be of interest to people employed in Ireland’s seafood sector and interested in starting or continuing to farm and produce seaweed for national and global food markets.

It should also appeal to farmers interested in the latest cutting edge market intelligence on seaweed consumed in the European Union, and to academics and researchers working in the seaweed or related area of maritime farming.

Companies seeking new product development opportunities for farmed seaweed-based food products and investors looking for the “newest thing” in Ireland’s seafood sector may also be interested in the conference.

Donal Maguire, BIM’s Aquaculture Development Services Director, said initiatives like the conference and forum help to raise awareness of the potential and encourage inward investment into Ireland’s emerging farmed seaweed sector.

BIM has led a number of technological breakthroughs in seaweed culture techniques and as a result, Ireland’s high-value seaweed species can now be reliably cultured in large volumes around our shores.

In addition, groundbreaking culture techniques which are under investigation for highly nutritious and valuable species have the potential to bring unprecedented growth and development to Ireland’s seaweed farming activities.

Mr Maguire said this new scale of development should provide an alternative source of farmed raw material from which Ireland can eventually produce a wide range of seaweed-based foods for human consumption.

These could be traded competitively in EU markets where the nutritional benefits of eating seaweed are gaining solid and increasing recognition, he said.

Recent trends in the global farmed seaweed commodities market will be examined at the conference which will have a session for potential investors.

Another key conference offering will be “Routes to Farming Seaweed” — a BIM-led information session.

It will focus on how Ireland’s seafood development agency can guide and assist delegates to grow their farmed seaweed business from start-up or into the next stage of development.

BIM-commissioned research into Ireland’s potential to develop farmed seaweed as a mainstream farming diversification/ food production option for supply into selected EU markets will be delivered by keynote speaker Amarjit Sahota,.

Sahota is the founder/ director of Organic Monitor, a specialist British market research, consulting and training firm focusing on the global organic and related niche product industries.

The latest scientific advice on how Ireland might best farm seaweed crops for human consumption will be led by botany Professor Susan Brawley, School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine, USA and a world renowned expert on the cultivation of sea vegetables.

Dr Helena Abreu, research and development director with Algaplus, a Portuguese-based pioneer in the production of marine vegetables, will also address the conference.

The growing interest in seaweed is reflected in the recent announcement that Arramara, a processing company in Cill Chiaráin, Conamara, is now owned by Acadian Seaplants, a multi-national company based in Canada with 30 years’ global experience in the industry.

Acadian is to initially invest €2 million in Arramara with further investment to follow in areas of research, development of value-added products, market development, processing technologies and capital expenditure.

Arramara currently employs 20 people directly and buys seaweed from over 300 harvesters.

Údarás na Gaeltachta was given ownership of Arramara in 2006. Following a later review, it was accepted that expertise and investment were required to secure the company’s future. As a result a strategic investment partner was found in Acadian Seaplants.

Údarás chief executive Steve Ó Cúláin said the seaweed industry has been and continues to be a very important industry to the Gaeltacht community.

He said the strategic partnership with Acadian and the investment it brings will allow Arramara to develop its business into the future, with benefit accruing to all as a result of increased economic activity and more local employment.

He said he was confident this new partnership with would ensure the future of Arramara, give maximum economic benefit to its employees, the seaweed harvesters, its suppliers and customers, and thereby deliver the best value for the State and the community.

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